Catching 'India fever'
Tue, May 06, 2008
The Straits Times

Three years ago, when senior executive Johnnie Tng was headhunted by a recruitment agency for a high-level job in India, he turned it down.

Concerned about housing, food and schooling issues for his three young children, he did not even look at the terms.

But the agency persisted. After checks with a friend who was already working there, Mr Tng, 40, decided he, too, would catch the 'India fever'.

'I missed the China boat. I didn't want to miss the India one as well,' said Mr Tng, who is an accountant by training.

He has worked in Bangalore for the last two years as the chief financial officer of Ascendas India. Ascendas is a real estate developer that specialises in business space.

With India following in China's footsteps as an economic powerhouse, more Singaporeans have been relocating there, mostly to Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and New Delhi.

In 2005, the Indian High Commission issued 60,000 business and travel visas to Singaporeans. That figure rose to 74,000 in 2006 and 80,000 last year.

Mr Predeep Menon, chief executive of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, estimates that the number of Singaporeans working in India has gone up by about 20 per cent annually in the last three to five years.

Like Mr Tng, many lured there are excited by its early stage of growth.

Mr Richard Tan, 38, for instance, felt that he had missed this growth phase of Singapore as he was born in the 1970s.

He readily agreed to move when the Economic Development Board posted him to Mumbai as its regional director in 2004.

Students, too, have been flocking to India for internships. Last year, 91 Singapore Management University (SMU) students did this, three times the number in 2006.

Internships in India also made up more than one-third of all overseas internships at SMU last year .

At the National University of Singapore's (NUS) business school, the number of students who took up an internship in India this year has risen 50 per cent from last year .

Similarly, the number of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students who did an internship in India has doubled.

Both NUS and NTU declined to give exact figures.

For NTU engineering undergraduate Kenneth Quah, 23, he feels his six-month internship in India, which started in January, will 'broaden my cultural and global knowledge, an asset in today's global economy'.

This growing passage of Singaporeans to India is not entirely surprising, given that Singapore was the country's second largest investor last year, with a foreign direct investment of about US$1.45 billion (S$2 billion) - more than double that of 2006.

It still lags behind China, but given that India opened up only in the mid-1990s, it will take five to 10 years to catch up, said Mr Menon.

And India may still be regarded as a 'hardship posting' in that its cities are not as developed as China's, noted Mr David Leong, managing director of regional human resource company PeopleWorldwide Consulting.

Indeed, Mr Tng agrees that living in India can be a challenge.

He had to stock up on candles because when he first moved in, there were about five blackouts a day, each lasting half to one hour. It is better now - just one a day.

Mr Reginald Wee, International Enterprise Singapore's regional director (South Asia), who moved his family of five to Mumbai last June, misses decent Chinese food.

'There are only a few reasonable Chinese restaurants and they cost double that of Singapore's,' he said.

But this typically Singaporean complaint aside, Mr Wee is impressed with India.

'It's a joy working with its smart and articulate people, and tackling the challenges that come along the way.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 4, 2008.


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